Traffic Noise Linked to Higher Risk of Heart Attack

By Chelsea Whyte on June 21, 2012 4:32 PM EDT

traffic
You might not even hear it, but noise pollution from traffic near your home can lead to higher risk of heart attack. (Photo: Creative Commons)

Traffic doesn't just add to air pollution, it creates noise pollution. And even if you don't notice the sound, it can take a heavy toll on your body and lead to a higher risk of heart attack for those living in loud areas, according to a new study by the Danish Cancer Society.

Over a 10-year period, researchers tracked over 50,000 people age 50 to 64 living in two of Denmark's largest cities, Copenhagen and Aarhus. They monitored their health and took note of the locations of their homes and measured how much noise each person had been exposed to based on traffic patterns in the area.

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During the study, 1,600 participants had their first heart attack, and the higher the traffic noise near their house, the greater their risk. The researchers found that increases in heart attack risk started with exposure to sound at about 40 decibels, and for every 10-decible increase in traffic noise, there was a 12 percent higher risk of heart attack.

That's really not much sound. A library-appropriate whisper is estimated at about 20 decibels, and normal conversation happens at around 60 decibels.

"We think traffic noise during the night is especially dangerous, because it disturbs sleep," said lead researcher Mette Sorenson, according to Fox News. But anytime you've been exposed to high levels of noise, "you have increased concentrations of stress hormones in your body," which could explain the increased heart attack risk, Sorenson said.

Even after taking into account other factors like air pollution, diet, gender and weight, the association between traffic noise and heart attack remained. Though the researchers are not sure of the reason for the link, stress is certainly a possibility. People who live in urban centers may experience higher stress levels, a well-known trigger of heart attacks.  

"The noise itself probably does increase stress and the levels of stress hormones like adrenaline. Your blood pressure is probably going up as well," Dr. Robert Bonow, a professor of medicine at the Northwestern Feinberg School of Medicine, told ABC News.

And even if you tune out the noise, the constant exposure could be affecting your body's natural processes.  

"You might wake up thinking that you had a quiet night, but when you look at it in a lab, you see that your sleep stages have been disturbed," Sorenson told MSNBC.

It seems it may not just be sitting in traffic that stresses the body. Simply being near it is enough to affect the body's health.

© 2012 iScience Times All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.

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